Monday, August 3, 2015

Another "Save Africa" Thing

A few months ago, my mother in law had her birthday.  As she opened and saw her gift, she politely asked, "Oh!  Is this another "save Africa" thing?" I had to smile.

Bear with me in a little rant.  All the media attention and upheaval in our society makes my head ache.  Every day there is one more scandal, one more civil rights issue, one more animal rights issue,  one more political mess, one more war or pending war, one more person or group of people that are offended by who knows what.  Then, people are offended that others are offended by what they choose to be offended about.  It's depressing, annoying, draining, and there are better things in which I can invest my time and energy.  Rant over, sort of.

Please hear me: I care about the wrongs in the world.  I care that there is injustice, pain, hurt, disease, sorrow, abuse and sadness.  However, I do not see that being up in arms or "raising awareness" through demonstrations or media campaigns is really helping to right these wrongs.  Instead, it seems to increase the hype and gives way to emotional arguments that hold no merit and produce no positive change.  Even causes that have merit and are legitimate problems are not helped by witty memes, catchy one-liners, or loud talk.  Benjamin Franklin said that "well done is better than well said" and I completely agree.

In the vernacular, let me rephrase: "So you want to impact the world?  Then shut up and do something about it. Your loud opinions are not as valuable as your good deeds."

Where do we even start?  It's easy and natural to be sucked into the first-world offenses that we are bombarded by almost hourly.  How can we really make a difference instead of being a part of the "all talk" group?  How do we get out of the rut of being an armchair activist?

I don't have a perfect answer.  I have a few suggestions, and would be happy to hear what others are aware of and participating in.  Please feel free to comment on this post with your own ideas.

Personally, I love to give gifts.  I especially love to give gifts that are not from a normal store (hence my mother-in-law's valid and humorous question.  She knows me well.).  The following links are groups that I have either ordered from myself, have received products from, or in some way participated in.  I cannot vouch for the organizations beyond my own positive experience with them, so do your own research.

- Picasso

Here are some groups that have meaningful gifts that benefit more than just the recipient:

Pura Vida Bracelets: every bracelet helps provide full time jobs for local artisans in Cost Rica
Sevenly: highlights a different cause each week with the goal of world change
Sevenly Causebox: a box subscription of ethically made products that give back and empower others
The Starfish Project: restores hope to exploited women in China through handmade jewelry
Parker Clay: works in Ethiopia to educate and empower women so they are not vulnerable to the sex industry.  94% of women that completed the program have stayed out of the sex industry.
Lot 2545: jewelry made by women in Uganda provides fair-trade wage for their families, and also benefits boys living on the streets
Perf: purchasing towels, bags and blankets help provide nutritious meals and clean water for children around the world

Not specifically gifts, but focused on a better community:

Gramr: a card subscription to express gratitude through handwritten thank you notes
AmazonSmile: use your amazon account to donate to your favorite charity at no cost to you (Everyone should do this!  It's FREE!)
Lot 2545: works to provide compassion and justice for older street boys in Uganda, they also have a store here
M-Seed Thrift Store: a local shop in Oregon City run by volunteers where all profits help send locals to drug and alcohol recovery programs
Good Spread: buy this peanut butter and a malnourished child will receive an equivalent amount of therapeutic food
Love For Humanity Organics: rich, nourishing skin care products are non-toxic, loaded with essential oils and plant derived ingredients designed to safely heal, hydrate and protect your skin.  Also, each purchase provides a meal for an underprivileged child

Here are some other "outside the box" ideas to help others:

  • Carry bottles water in your car to hand out to those on the street corner that are homeless or looking for work.  Really, these people do not bite.  You will not contract rabies by giving them a bottle of water.
  • Pack an extra sandwich to give away to someone who needs it while on your lunch break in the city
  • Instead of throwing things away or giving to a large thrift store, check out other charities and shelters in your area.  Donate your items to them to have a positive impact in your immediate community.
  • Have an afternoon free?  Volunteer to sort/steam/fold clothes or wash dishes at your local charity or serve meals at a local shelter.  You are not above this.
  • Check out Etsy for your shopping.  Sellers on Etsy are often mom-and-pop businesses that produce quality, homemade goods with a personal touch.  You are supporting real people, not just a big box store.
  • Check out Saturday markets and local fruit stands for your produce.  Not only is it fresh, but it's grown by people in your community. 
  • Support the adoption fundraisers of your friends and your friends' friends.  The money really does go to help a child.  The money really is needed.  It's not a scam.
  • Look for social-good companies like these that give back through a BOGO program or percentage of the profits.
  • Carry some extra change and add to someone's expired parking meter.  Even a dime might save them a ticket.
  • "Pay it forward" and purchase the coffee of the next person in line, or the next person's drink that is under $3, etc.
  • Leave a bigger tip
So, I challenge you to be the change you want to see in the world (Gandhi).  The word "be" can be defined as "to exist or live".  It is a verb, an action word.  Do something besides talk.  Live in a way that is others-focused.  Give of yourself and your resources to bless people.  

James says in the Bible that if you see someone that does not have their basic needs met, and you only wish them well even though you have the resources to help, your faith is not doing anyone any good.  It's useless. (James 3:14-17, my paraphrase)

Louis CK says "Listen. The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have… as much as them."  

So, go ahead, and give gifts that are a "save Africa thing".  Make sure others have enough.  Go ahead and participate in causes that benefit more than yourself.  Be a spokesperson and an activist for the good of someone else, not just for the daily offenses that are flighty and fickle.  Be proactive in your life and realize that your life is not about you.  Rise above the first-world problems that would drag us into intellectual debates over things that do not benefit.  Be the change.  Do something.